05/31/2012, 00.00
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Family as a safe asset in a precarious world and workplace

by Bernardo Cervellera
For the theological pastoral congress currently underway at the World Meeting of Families, the family and the workplace must urgently strike an alliance. In opposition to individualism, the experience and social doctrine of the Church emphasise the relational nature of man. Freely giving and meaning give work its value. Card Tettamanzi criticises the excessive remunerations in banking, industry and sports. For Chilean scholar Morandé Court, the family is an important opportunity to give work quality, which today is no longer based on production or capital, but on "creating human capital". Participants express their solidarity to quake victims in Emilia-Romagna.

Milan (AsiaNews) - The family is the setting that gives work meaning, continuity and efficiency. This has always been the case, but it is more urgent today because work is defined more by its "human quality" than "productive capacity". For this reason, "human qualities" must be taught in the family as a priority to generate wellbeing (and goodness) in society.

This is the second chapter in the 'cultural revolution' that the World Meeting of Families is undertaking at present in Milan. Yesterday's chapter indicated how family life based on a man, a woman and two or more children, is a key asset that brings the most happiness in society.

In opposition to the prevailing worldview, the theological pastoral congress noted that without the family there is no "good work". Hence, business people and political leaders should pay attention to the family-oriented worldview rather than view the institution of the family as a competitor or just as unit in which consumption takes place.

Card Dionigi Tettamanzi, archbishop emeritus of Milan, gave the "thumbs up" to this "revolution" by stressing the "family aspect of human labour". In today's society, "it is unusual to relate family and work because of the widespread belief that only the relationship between the individual and his/her work matters, as informed by the post-modern culture and its focus on the single individual, divorced from others, as if they are either did not exist or where irrelevant. Experience tells us that we are shaped by multiple relationships, from the one that generated us to those that made us grow."

From this, important consequences follow:

    1) Freely giving is also important in workplace because "it is untrue that the quest for maximum profit and economic utility make people do things. Charity is the true and most explosive motivator because it energises and strengthens new fraternal relationships in every family, enterprise and the wider human family."

    2) "Humanity does not exist for work, but for the Sabbath (the day of rest). . . .  The time at work inevitably differentiates and divides, whereas rest and celebration soften social inequalities as people become better acquainted with one another, share and communicate."

    3) Since people must work, underpaying manual labour is "scandalous unfair" when compared to the "excessive remunerations" that capital-intensive activities provide. [. . .] Are the time, physical and mental effort and responsibilities of the lowliest employee less valuable than the time, efforts and responsibility of a financial wizard, a captain of industry, a political leader or a sportsman?"

Citing at length the Bible, the social doctrine of the Church, and the encyclical Caritas in veritate, Card Tettamanzi stressed the potential for a "positive alliance between work and family life". To become a reality, it would require a commitment from politicians and trade unions as well as solidarity to defend workers' rights across the board. "The life and health of a Chinese worker are worth the same as that of an Italian worker," he said.

Sociologist Pedro Morandé (pictured), 64, from the Catholic University in Santiago, Chile, described in a more scientific way the value of the family in today's world. Citing the encyclical Centesimus Annus, he said, "If at one point, land was the main factor of production, followed by capital, defined as machines and instrumental assets, people today are increasingly the decisive factor thanks to their capacity to understand through scientific knowledge, to organise together and to recognise intuitively the needs of one another and meet them."

For this reason, he concluded, "the family has become the crucial agent in generating 'human capital'. Indeed, the family provides a "great opportunity" for today's workforce. "Attitudes towards knowledge and information; intellectual curiosity; capacity to be intellectually and emotionally challenged by the actual world; and empathy towards what exists, especially other human beings, are virtues that feed on the inner freedom that has not and cannot be the by-product of industry, but comes from the experience of sharing with others. And this certainly begins inside the family."

Therefore, we must look at work and the family together, ensuring part-time work for women with children, caring for the elderly, improving education and looking at these not as obstacles to production, but as a social good of which work is a part.

For Prof Morandé Court, little value is given to this "new cultural horizon" or to the institution of the family, especially in Europe, where it is near extinction. All evidence suggests that individualism has been a failure-psychoses, suicide and demographic winter are its legacy. The welfare state has not done much better, proving unable to care for an aging population. Starting anew from the family and education is a must if we want "to renew family togetherness, and direct work towards the full development of people."

Almost as a dare to show the family's social dimension, at the Meeting it was decided to help the families affected by the earthquake in Emilia-Romagna. Fund raising has started at the Milan Fair venue to help the victims. Three thousand pieces of Grana Padano have also gone on sale to raise money for the farms and cheese makers hit by the quake.

Milan Caritas shipped 1,500 health and first aid kits, set up four tents for 800 beds and raised 15,000 Euros.

On the Feast of Testimonies in the evening of 2 June, in the presence of the pope, an Emilia-Romagna family, victim of the quake, will come and tell their story.

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